Despite my interrupted training and despite my ankle tendon issues, I woke up today a marathoner after having completed the Loch Ness Marathon. Sure I wasn’t the fastest (that honour goes to Elly Tarus who completed it in 2 hours, 27 mins and 21 secs!!), I don’t even think I was anything close to the fastest I am capable of, but I finished in 5:49:37 which I’m pretty pleased with, especially given the issues I had in the build up to the race.
It’s difficult to describe the experience but I’ll give it a go.
The day started pretty early, I had to get to the pick up point for the buses that ship everybody out to the starting line at around 7:00 AM, a full three hours before the start of the race. That wasn’t really an issue for me – I am well used to early starts – but it did mean there was a lot of time to hang around, waiting for the race to start and I am not a fan of inertia. Too much time to think can be a killer, so I tried to spend it focusing on my last minute preparations and of course, admiring the spectacular scenery.
I must admit, the sight of nearly four thousand runners assembled at the starting line was impressive indeed. I opted for a position near the back, all too aware of the fact that I wasn’t going to be running fast and wanting to avoid the psychological impact of seeing hundreds of runners powering off ahead of me and, perhaps worse, passing me in the opening moments. Not that I felt in competition with the other runners, I most certainly didn’t, but the human brain is the human brain and to see hundreds of people leaving you in their dust is a negative feeling you just don’t want or need when you have twenty six point two miles to traverse!
I actually found the first half quite comfortable. I kept a nice steady pace (somewhere around the eleven to twelve minute mile mark) that stayed pretty consistent for the first fourteen miles or so. As someone who always trains on his own I was sort of surprised by how sociable an experience it was. At various points I would fall into pace with a group of runners and get a chat – the usual sort of stuff, where people were from, what their running experiences were, and so on – and the pervasive atmosphere of friendly encouragement was extremely useful in those early miles.
It was round about mile fourteen or fifteen that I found myself faltering a bit, pace wise. I was having to walk for spells, not because I was tired (I actually had no issues cardio-wise over the whole race and never felt out of breath once) but because my not-quite-conditioned-enough leg muscles were starting to feel the strain. For a while I found myself running/walking alongside a bloke called Steve from Aberdeen who was also struggling a bit and we urged each other on, running a mile then walking one, making deals with each other (and ourselves) to push on to the next mile marker, or to walk up a hill on the condition we ran down the other side and so on. The important thing to me was not to stop. No matter how sore my legs were, I knew that if I stopped them pumping it would be nigh on impossible to get them started again.
Steve and I parted ways when he had to stop (he would later pass me once he’d dug deep and found a second wind) and I pushed myself down the road. My next comrade in agony was Liam, from Bristol, who was really struggling with calf pain as he walked on down the road. He’d already had one friend drop out at the halfway point with knee problems and was really starting to feel the strain. With my thighs burning through overwork, I found it reassuring that I wasn’t alone in my pain. We spent a couple of miles pushing each other along and resolutely failing to get back to a running pace but I didn’t mind, my greater concern being to keep on going, no matter what the speed. We caught up with his other running mate who was also having a bad time of it and then I left them behind when they decided to stop and stretch their muscles out a bit before carrying on. (They would eventually finish about twenty minutes after I did).
I essentially power walked the last six or seven miles, and as each mile marker appeared and I passed the familiar landmarks of the city centre I was resolving myself to run across the line, no matter how much it hurt. As the last mile loomed there were more and more people lining the route, cheering, clapping and offering encouragement (I must admit, I was impressed they had stuck it out so long) and it was amazing how much of a boost to my determination and resolve that was. As I crossed the main bridge over the River Ness I desperately wanted to run but my legs weren’t cooperating, but as I carried on down the riverside somehow I managed to get my legs to move until I was jogging towards the finish line where my family and friends were waiting to cheer me across the line. I sprinted the last thirty yards or so, determined to cross the line with a bit of pride and dignity.
And that was that. Twenty six point two miles, my first marathon, in the bag after not enough preparation and almost six hours of toil. I got my medal and my free t-shirt and strode triumphantly into the event village and it was only then that I noticed just how much pain I was in! I can’t remember, in all my years of martial arts and fitness training, ever feeling this sore. Beyond the intensity it’s a familiar sort of pain, the stiffness and burning of muscles pushed to their limits but even with the massage I got immediately after the run and the ice bath I had last night I’m struggling to get my legs to cooperate with me today. It has improved since yesterday – there was so much tightness in my left leg I felt like my kneecap was going to wrenched loose – and I know it will subside over the next couple of days so it’s fine. I think there’s even a perverse side of me that’s enjoying it, the pain being easier to handle with the knowledge that every stabbing, burning moment of it was earned the hard way.
Will I do another marathon? I think so, I’d like to have another go at one after completing a full training programme and see if I can improve on my time. It’s certainly an experience I would recommend. However matter of fact I may have felt before and during the event as to the accomplishment, it couldn’t suppress my roar of accomplishment as I crossed that line. It’s a funny feeling. A great feeling. But hard to put into words.
Anyway, I have the rest of this week off work so I reckon it’s time to get down to some serious rest and recuperation.
P.S. Most of the photos in the post weren’t actually taken on the day but are of things you pass on the way. I didn’t even want to stop to take a photo of anything, such was my single mindedness to get to the end! Maybe next time…